Even before one opens the executable to play a game, the level of interactivity the player will be permitted has been predetermined by factory-set parameters. Simple, stringent, and closed to discussion is the politics of consent regarding the use of interactive media. A prospective player faces two options: either participate in the game, and thereby comply with the rules of the game and accept one’s new identity as a ward of the game state; or abstain from the game. “With us or against us, Player One. What’ll it be?” Depending on the particular game’s present status in gaming forums, the foul fruits of one’s resisting the temptation to play it may be unpalatable anonymity or, far worse, a bitter stigma on one’s name: obstructionist; hater; troll.
The writer treads softly, carries a big stick. By one’s own contrariwise nature, the writer of this article could be branded, rightly or falsely, a troll. That monster without a country, the troll has come to represent the harshest voices in the public forum, characterized by abrasiveness for its own sake. Like other buzzwords with origins on the internet, the act of trolling must be crowd-sourced to be understood. Definitions of trolling abound. Academics have wrestled with it. The business savvy have employed its ugly methods. Working-class heroes and hate-mongering scoundrels fit the bill.
Important to our cause: two fiercely trolled franchises mentioned in the previous post have special places in the hearts of censorship-hating gamers. That Caesar–imitating controversy-stirring lover of movies, the late Roger Ebert, was branded a troll (by other trolls) for speaking his mind on the subject of gaming’s place in the Zeitgeist. The abrasiveness of trolls, matched in intensity by their ingrown loneliness for freaks like themselves.
Let’s think, now, about the proverbial troll under the bridge. Classically, he is seen as a villain, his hunger reprehensible and his tactics those of intimidation and terror. To the moral absolutists on the bridge, he is mad, snarling, a would-be devourer of the defenseless. The troll’s physical position under the bridge separates him from the billy goats on the bridge, their culture and its prevailing ideologies. He dwells in a shadow realm between two fields, two worlds. In the story, the picture of justice features greener pastures for meek billy goats and death by violence for vulgar trolls.
Turn the tables, give the bridge-promenading billy goats the bad name. What need does a billy goat have of a bridge? They swim just fine and go where they please, impervious to gravity – trolling physics, as it were.
The backwardness of the trolling label does not stop there: if an internet troll is, essentially, a bully, wouldn’t a more hurtful label be one which evokes the big bad third billy goat who trounces the troll? Perhaps, but to give the question its due regard, we would have to play the internet troll’s game.